A hot breath of warning, then Scarlet jams her tongue into my ear.

“Jesus-fucking-Christ.” I jerk backward far enough to look at the wet black muzzle inches from my face. Her mouth opens again, tongue aiming for my eye.

“Fuck,” I swat at her nose. She’s giving me that curious look she always does. What is the matter. Isn’t this what I’m supposed to be doing? You’re my bestfriendbabymotherfeedmaching and I love you. She has big black eyes, a button nose, red face, white blaze. She’d be a cute cow if it wasn’t for this.

I try to dodge the next assault and fail. She’s pulling my hair into her mouth. Neither licking nor chewing.

“Fuck it.” I return to wiping off her teat ends. “Fucker.” I appreciate Scarlet’s love for me. I really do. But, these twice-daily forced fellatios of my face are getting old.

I stand and work her spit out of my hair. ‘Cow lick’ seems to be a cute term for a messy curl of hair; clearly, who ever coined the phrase never had a mass of fermented rumen saliva, flecked with hay, on her head.

It occurs to me that my swearing has become entirely ineffectual. Not to the cows, mind you. Swearing has never worked on them. It’s become ineffectual to me. Twenty years of repercussion free cussing left the words hollow. Fuck, shit, ass, bitch. These words have settled into my speech pattern as though they were but sighs.

A few years ago, I tried to mix up my epithets a little bit. Add the color I thought they lacked. Douche-monger. Chuckle-dick. Twat-waffle. Cunt-puppet. I added a feminine twist onto traditional vulgar sayings. “A real pain in the ass” became “really bites my clit.” “Fuck you” became “eat me.” The value of this lasted until my regular circle heard all my new bits. I’d get laughs, stares, humorous disapproval. Soon, these phrases normalized as well. My heart feels no emphasis on these words.

So, there I am, standing across a shit-filled gutter from Scarlet, trying to find some phrase that will capture my true feelings at that moment. She stares back at me, jerking her head forward, wanting me to return for more loving abuse.

“You’re a real Cracker Jack box, do you know that?”

She doesn’t appear to know that, but she’d react the same way if I called her a ball-biter. I feel better, though.

“You salt-packed-sardine,” I say to Jelly Bean when she hits me in the face with her tail.

“You weak cup of java,” I say to Sophie, leaning my head lovingly on her hip.

This is feeling good. By now, my husband has noticed something strange is going on. He walks by with a cart full of hay, eyeing me up.

“You’ve got the personality of a cardboard box of off-brand Shredded Wheat,” I say to Nice. Ridiculous, I know. Despite her name, Nice has the personality of a teenager smuggling a switchblade into school. Did I mention I love her?

My husband shakes his head and walks past me.

I try out a few other insults under my breath. When he enters hearing range again, I try to call Pimm a monochromatic Necronomicon. This doesn’t work out as well as I hoped. It sounds like I’m choking on my tongue. He doesn’t look at me this time. “Monochromatic Necronomicon, monochromatic Necronomicon,” I whisper to myself.

“You prongless spork,” I say to Fehren.

“You’re a real open-face sandwich.” I take the milker machine off of Rose’s udder.

That makes me smile.

As with so many things I do, a few vestiges remain of my obsessive compulsive disorder, which was brought to heel with three years of medication, therapy, and life changes. One of the lighter bits of this is that when I do something repetitive that I enjoy, I continue doing it until interrupted. Singing. Flipping through songs in my playlist. Tossing small stones across the driveway. And, creating new insults for cows, apparently. If, mid-activity, I stop doing one of these things and don’t replace it with something else, there’s a hard moment of anxiety in my chest. It’s as though I am looking down into a dark hole at the bottom of which lies all my previous panic attacks, waiting to strike. They never do, of course. There’s just comfort in not stopping until I’m distracted.

So, this goes on for the entire hour-and-a-half that it takes me to milk the barn. I’m grinning from ear to ear. My husband is still trying to ignore me.

“You fluffer-nutter-sandwich.”

“You undercooked peanut butter blondie.”

“You tasteless lunchroom apple.”

I’m relying heavily on food insults, I know. I haven’t had breakfast yet and they are making me hungry. Time to try something else.

“You’re a Deck of Many Things,” I say to Decca as I hang the milker on her udder, happy with my own joke. On the feed deck above me, I see my husband’s half-profile. The roundness of his cheek means he might be smiling.

At that moment, Nova tries to kick off her milker across the aisle from where I am standing.

“Stop that.” I rush over to her, stroking her hip. “You’re an Orc with impeccable table manners.”

“You are the weirdest fucker I know,” my husband says, walking around the corner.

Like that, the spell is broken. My repetition is gone. My faith in true cussing returns. I rest my chin on Nova’s flank, laughing.

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